Legislative leaders and a gubernatorial candidate leveled charges of Washington-style politics and worse — New Jersey-style politics — is a series of news conferences at the Iowa Capitol Thursday.
The charges stemmed from revelations in the past week about secret settlements with former state employees, including hush money to keep them quiet about their terminations and a Democratic senator’s charges that the administrative law judges were pressured to decided unemployment benefit cases in favor of employers.
“I cannot condemn in more firm words the actions of the director to instruct administrative law judges to screw Iowans out of their benefits,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said at his weekly news conference, his voice rising.
Moments later, House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, charged that Democrats are attempting to make political hay out of the accusations involving Gov. Terry Branstad and his Iowa Workforce Department Director Teresa Wahlert.
“As the session began, there was a lot of talk about ‘We’re not Washington,’” Paulsen said. “What I’m seeing right now from Senate Democrats is a lot of Washington, D.C.
“Don’t be confused, I think this is all about the gubernatorial campaign,” he continued. “Everything they are doing is in this public, accusatory forum instead of why don’t they come and talk to one of us and say: ‘Hey, we have this concern here. How do we fix it?’”
From there, the political rhetoric flowed to the Capitol rotunda where presumptive democratic gubernatorial candidate Sen. Jack Hatch, Des Moines, lambasted Branstad for a “culture of secrets.”
“Behind these doors is a world of secrets,” he said while standing outside Branstad’s office.
The Branstad administration has forced people out of their jobs, forced administrative law judges to rule improperly, fired a DCI agent for reporting the governor’s vehicle was speeding and closed the Iowa Juvenile Home as part of a plan to privatize it, Hatch said.
He rejected the suggestion the revelations were part of Democrats’ campaign strategy.
“If it were related to the gubernatorial campaign, I would be more involved,” Hatch said.
Branstad campaign spokesman Tommy Schultz saw it differently.
“Liberal senators continue to show that they are out of touch with Iowa,” he said in a statement to reporters. “We are confident that once the partisan shouting dies down and the facts come out, Iowans will see these allegations for the baseless, sophomoric and political claims that they are.”
Hatch sees it as a continuing pattern of abuse.
“A pattern that I brought up last August when I said the governor was abusing his power, where he felt he was above the law, where he was more interested in his legacy of being the longest-serving governor than in managing the state,” Hatch said. “This is nothing new to me and it’s a pattern that’s emerging, not from my campaign, but from different areas of state government.”
He criticized the governor for not responding to the charges. Branstad was available to reporters when he was on a state mission to China, so Hatch said he should be available while vacationing in Arizona.“This administration and the way he is managing it is looking more and more like Chris Christie’s New Jersey than Iowa’s management of good politics and open politics,” Hatch said.